Libertarian Party

‘Nonpartisan’ Pollsters Are Basically Doing Push Polls for Democrats and Republicans

There is no excuse to exclude high-performing Libertarians (or Greens) from "neck-and-neck" races

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Vox Populi Polling, a nonpartisan polling agency (FiveThirtyEight rates it a "B"), which was "formed by some of the nation's most prominent public opinion research experts to solve a common problem: the need for fast, affordable and accurate surveys," is very proud of its work today:

More neck-and-neck stuff from the Indiana Senate race, too. Plus, some advice!

Here's the problem with the accuracy of these purportedly non-partisan surveys: They deliberately exclude high-performing, right-there-on-the-ballot Libertarians, two of whom are far outpolling the percentage-point spread between the major party candidates (while the third, West Virginia's Rusty Hollen, has only been polled once). As reader James M. Ray rightly observed on Twitter, these efforts effectively amount to "push polls." How does removing options that actually exist, particularly in contests that are truly up for grabs, differ meaningfully from the Wikipedia definition of push-polling as "an interactive marketing technique, most commonly employed during political campaigning, in which an individual or organization attempts to manipulate or alter prospective voters' views/beliefs under the guise of conducting an opinion poll"?

Take that first Senate campaign mentioned, Nevada. Yes, the headline race is neck-and-neck—all 10 political forecasters collated here rate it as a "toss-up." All the better reason to factor in that the Libertarian on the ballot, Tim Hagan, is unusually strong, averaging 4 percent of the vote when included in polls, including his most recent result of 8 percent. Hagan, an engineer and longtime Libertarian Party (L.P.) activist, has run for elected office nine times, including three previous campaigns in swing contests, and never once received less than 3 percent of the vote. Polls without Hagan skew accuracy, while propagating the false notion among voters that only Democrats and Republicans are on offer.

It's even worse in Indiana's neck-and-neck Senate race, where Libertarian candidate Lucy Brenton (who I've written about a lot this cycle) is averaging an even better 6 percent of the vote in the four independent polls that have listed her, including this Gravis Marketing survey from last night were Brenton's 7 percent showing was only part of the interest.

You see, unusually even for polls that include Libertarians, Gravis detailed the partisan and age breakdowns for each candidate's support. It is of direct relevance to pollsters allegedly concerned with accuracy, is it not, to see which party Libertarians are pulling more from?

In this case, it's close: 4.8 percent of Republican respondents said they were voting Brenton, compared to 3.8 percent of Democrats. Her far bigger showing was with independents and third-party members, who backed Brenton 14.7 percent. (Another fun tidbit is that 12.1 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds were backing the Libertarian, within shouting distance of Republican Mike Braun's 21.8 percent; while among voters over 65 she got precisely zilch.)

If he gets just 2%, I'll eat my Angels hat. ||| Larry Sharpe
Larry Sharpe

I don't mean to pick on Vox Populi Polling. Indefensible candidate-exclusion, of the type that undeservedly reinforces major-party incumbency and misleads poll recipients, happens every damned day in the weeks before an election. Why, just this morning Quinnipiac University released the first independent survey of the New York gubernatorial race since the Working Families Party removed from its ballot line the well-known progressive insurgent Cynthia Nixon, choosing instead to back Nixon's Democratic primary opponent, Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (New York politics are weird.)

As recently as late September, Nixon had been polling at 10 percent as a WFP candidate, so surely Quinnipiac would be interested to see whether Nixon's anti-Cuomo base was grudgingly following the party line, or transferring to Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins (who received 4.8 percent of the vote in 2014), or shifting to the energetic and media-savvy Libertarian Larry Sharpe, or even to independent update pol Stephanie Miner? Nope, respondents were presented with the woefully inaccurate premise that the choice in this overwhelmingly blue state is between the unlovable Cuomo and a largely invisible Republican named Marc Molinaro.

That isn't science. That's propaganda.

Sharpe paid for his own poll last week, showing the headline race at 48 percent to 25 percent, followed by him with 13 percent, Miner with 8 and Hawkins with 6. (In sharp contrast, the Siena College poll with Nixon at 10 percent had Sharpe with just 2 percent, Miner with 1 percent, and Hawkins with zero.)

But the point is, independent polling agencies and their media partners who tell you that they're providing accurate nonpartisan analysis of the New York gubernatorial race—and scores of other electoral contests from coast to coast—are flat-out lying. Journalists and political scientiests should be independent checks on power, not handmaidens to it.

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35 responses to “‘Nonpartisan’ Pollsters Are Basically Doing Push Polls for Democrats and Republicans

  1. Eight posts in four days. Matt, are you taking some kind of stimulant? Will you share?

    1. Upcoming elections are exciting to a segment of the population.

    2. Reason is attempting quantity over quality now. They degraded the quality months ago. Finally doing the quantity.

  2. Let us discuss the difference between “ought” and “is”…

    What happened to undermining the faith in the veracity of our media organs was a terrible thing?

  3. Get back to me if you ever manage to find any organization that is actually nonpartisan.

    1. How do they manage to be snarky and this naive at the same time?

  4. Never believe a poll that did not contact you for a response.

    Remember 2016?

    1. I’ve been contacted for 5 polls over the last month and a half. Not one of them would even let me answer libertarian.

      I think if I get contacted again and they don’t offer up the other candidates on the ballot I’m going to lay into their shitty methodology.

      1. I had this happen a lot in 2016. They did not want to hear that I utterly despised the DeRps and had already decided to vote L. The pollster who was calling had clearly heard that reaction many times before and was sympathetic to recording it. But the checkboxes/options they were given simply did not have any of that as an option

        I think the only real answer is to:

        have the third parties (and maybe sympathetic media) pay to commission honest polls (or maybe a polling company can actually set itself up as that)

        constantly talk to the media about the poll results. They only care about reporting the horserace – and they are basically lazy. But that just means you got to constantly be in their face to report it.

        1. Actually colleges could also be a good source of that polling. They’ve got a ton of students learning about statistics and politics and social science research and marketing. And I suspect they may be more sympathetic to the honesty issue than are established polling companies who get their revenue from DeRps

          1. If you want your sample to be hopelessly contaminated by unbridled Marxism, sure, that sounds like a good plan. Plus few to any of them actually vote.

            In fairness, maybe you mean have students run the polling but you’d run into the same problem unless you assume young idealists are somehow grounded in reality and honest poll taking. A huge leap of faith if ever I’ve heard one.

            1. I think he is suggesting the student conduct the poll. Not answer it.

            2. Yeah I meant colleges run the polls – like in this story – Quinnipiac, Siena College – and many others. These are great research projects.

              And yes I’m saying Libertarians should do this. I really don’t give a shit about your Republican talking points and memes.

    2. Even the bookies got that one wrong. Makes me wonder what the odds were on Herbert Hoover in 1928. Bookie Arnold Rothstein was shot and killed right after the election.

  5. polls are dumb. not paying attention to polls is liberating. why care what the faceless say? be you.

  6. “High-performing Libertarian” is my nickname right now.

    1. You sure you don’t mean ‘high, performing libertarian’?

  7. Here in California, now that we have a jungle primary, the pollsters are getting really aggressive. They figure now that we “have to” vote for the two “real” parties, they have to find out which way we are going to vote. I keep telling them I will vote, I will vote on the ballot propositions, I won’t vote for any D or R, taking away my choices won’t make me vote for your goons, etc.

    They’re calling every day now. All it took to make my vote matter was to take away my choices. Go figure.

    1. So you actually get calls from pollsters. Huh.

    2. Do they poll for the primaries too?

  8. As a former-Republican (who toughed it out through the Orwellian “Dubya”-years), I have seen the bad & the downright fugly that comes with The Right. That said: “While I reject the fiscal-ignorance associated with Communism, I have found ideological-solace in left-libertarianism. The State can play no role in a peaceful, capitalist-system because it’s purpose is antithetical to that of capitalism. https://mises.org/library/society-without-state

    1. Note to foreign readers: by capitalism the writer means 1850s monarchic slaveholding mercantilism and the Acts of Navigation Adam Smith recommended be used as pretext for using solid shot against Dutch shipping.

  9. Sounds like the “independent” pollsters have a clear stake in keeping the 2-party system alive and the fact that Libertarians in some states are attracting double-digit support has them scared shitless.

    Well, carry on statist clingers. I will never again vote for a D or an R. They are so last century. Try to fool people all you want with deceptive polls that ignore real ballots. It won’t save your precious giant douche vs turd dichotomy.

    1. True, but the bottom line is to get the mostest laws changed for your vote. Jerry Garcia hated “that dumb place of voting for the lesser of two evils”–and only voted once in his life. But understanding how much more law-changing clout my LP vote wields made it a no-brainer. Voting Libertarian is the equivalent of bringing a half-dozen friends in to vote with you and against corrupt and cruel laws that kill people. Finally I can enjoy it!

      1. I didn’t know that about Jerry Garcia. Another reason to like him. I miss the guy.

        Outside of some state-level races, I have no illusions an LP candidate will actually outright (yet)?but every vote they get is a finger in the eye is the duopoly and a fuck you to “independent” pollsters who refuse to even include everyone on the ballot when they poll.

    2. It’s almost like they want you to think your only choice is between a shit sandwich and a turd stew.

  10. Of course, Reason is doing it’s part to make sure that libertarians are also more interested in the duopoly than they are in libertarianism by running bat shit insane click bait articles.

    1. They’ve done some LP-related stuff. A little too much Weld if you ask me, but they cover it.

  11. The independents tend to under perform their poll numbers on election day. Gary Johnson got just under 4% of the national vote (13% of his votes came from blacks and Latinos, not too shabby), and he was flirting with 10% in some polls.

    Mainstream polls will pay more attention to LP and other third party candidates if they can nab 8-10% of the vote consistently and play that coveted “spoiler” role.

  12. The whole point of Nixon’s GOP tampering with the tax code was to pay media whores venality to ignore the LP. It happened within 24 hrs of the party forming. But we’ve won steadily on all important issues because of the power of spoiler votes. When I vote libertarian I am as reasonably certain of helping defeat the more repugnant of two kleptocracy candidates as when holding a kings and queens full house. The beauty is I don’t even have to listen to the looters. The only thing they don’t lie about is each other. Every Texas voter who listened to Beto and Lyin’ Ted will see LIB: Dikeman on the ballot. Hopefully they will remember what our adversaries said about each other.

  13. My own straw poll has revealed that my Libertarian-leaning friends (maybe one of them is an avowed libertarian, but several I convinced to vote Gay Jay in 2012) are voting Republican this year. I live in a Republican controlled area, so this is not surprising. It sucks that the incumbent do-nothjng congressman will remain, and our local tax happy Republicans (we have to spend more on cops, don’t you know?) get their shitty agendas through.

    The claim is the Brett Kavanaugh hearings pushed them rightward. I understand the anger, but emotion should not be a driver for your vote.

    The only solace is the Dems are outright socialists in many cases.

  14. Here’s the thing: If you’re in an area where one party or the other has a lock on things… By all means, vote Libertarian. I do, since I’m in commie territory.

    But, sad as it may be, I just can’t bring myself to do this in close races. The practical difference between an R or a D winning isn’t always as massive as Ls would hope… But it is real. The GOP in my state hasn’t been pushing anti gun legislation, putting in a state income tax, etc. The truth is people are frequently, I would say 99.9% of the time, NOT given the “best” possible choice in a situation. But there is still some value in choosing the lesser of two evils.

  15. Fun as it is to imagine all polling companies are conspiring to suppress the Green and Libertarian Party votes, isn’t it more likely that it comes down to money? Getting accurate data for a candidate hovering around 5% would require a significant expansion of the number of respondents polled. Quadruple the cost to get data on a candidate who has no chance of winning – who’s going to pay for that?

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